City Year is an AmeriCorps program with 29 sites nationwide. Chicago is their largest site. This year, City Year will have 265 AmeriCorps members serving and supporting over 17,000 students in 32 schools within Chicago Public Schools. AmeriCorps members commit to a year of service to improve attendance, engagement, increase graduation rates and expand college enrollment. In addition, they provide peer mentoring support to children from 3rd to 10th grade, focusing on social-emotional support and tutoring in English and Math.
With the inequities within the educational system, City Year hopes to impact learning environments where children do not have adequate resources and opportunities to help “level the playing field.” The Chicago Defender spoke to City Year Executive Director, Myetie Hamilton, about the challenges facing students returning to in-person learning, the role of City Year in helping students and how parents can help acclimate their children back to the classrooms.
Chicago Defender: How did City Year adjust to 2020 with children learning from home?
Myetie Hamilton: We planned and collaborated with our principals in our participating schools well before the start of last school year to pivot our program model into a virtual setting. Our members would join teachers virtually and provide virtual support with study sessions. We also held “office hours,” another opportunity to work with students with homework and tutoring.
Chicago Defender: Normally, your members are in the classrooms?
Myetie Hamilton: Yes. Our AmeriCorps members are there before school starts until 5:30 pm. Six to eight core members are assigned to a teacher for the entire year. They support a group of students in each class.
Chicago Defender: Do you see an increase in test scores or better grades as a result?
Myetie Hamilton: last year was just a critical year where our students needed support. They needed to feel engaged with the school and adults outside of the home. So our core members did a lot of work focusing on attendance and engaging students. That involved a lot of outreach and speaking with parents to ensure that children had everything they needed, such as working internet and laptops. Peer mentoring was also essential, especially for students who had difficulty focusing on school from home.
During the first quarter of the last school year, some schools struggled to engage students in virtual learning. In the schools we support, we saw average attendance up from 49% to 80%.
Chicago Defender: What can parents and caregivers do to help students returning into the classrooms this year?
Myetie Hamilton: It’s essential to provide students with a structure to acclimate going back to school daily. Ensuring they have a schedule and system so they can show up every day is important. Beyond that, we have to support their social-emotional needs and provide additional educational support. There will be a need to catch up this year for students who did not wholly engage last year. I think that’s where City Year comes in. Our members support after-school programs and work with students as an additional source of support, especially those who need help catching up.
City Year uses a research-based approach called “Whole School, Whole Child.” Members work closely with students who exhibit early indicators in attendance, behavior, or course performance. City Year commits to multiple years of service in schools to give students additional support during critical transition years when research shows students are most at risk.
City Year’s holistic approach to supporting students by working in partnership with principals and teachers provides a cost-effective and efficient way to improve student academic outcomes.